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Philippines blames media for US rights concerns


This handout photo taken on July 5, 2017 and released by the Presidential Photo Division (PPD) on July 6 shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivering a speech before local officials in the town of Hagonoy, Davao del Sur province, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened on July 5 to eat alive the Islamist militants behind the abduction and beheadings of two Vietnamese sailors in a furious reaction to the killings. Handout / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO DIVISION / AFP

The Philippines said Friday it would tell visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson his concerns over its drug war that has claimed thousands of lives were due to “exaggerated media reports”.

Tillerson is due to meet President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of a regional security forum that begins on the weekend, and both sides have flagged that the human rights debate over the drug war would be on the agenda.

“We welcome the opportunity to address their concerns and correct the perceptions they may have gleaned from exaggerated media reports,” a Philippine foreign department statement said on Friday.

The statement was released after acting US assistant secretary of state Susan Thornton said in Washington that Tillerson would discuss human rights issues in Manila.

Duterte easily won presidential elections last year after promising an unprecented war on drugs in which tens of thousands of people would be killed.

Since he took office in the middle of last year, police have confirmed killing more than 3,400 people in anti-drug operations.

More than 2,000 other people have been killed in drug-related crimes and thousands more murdered in unexplained circumstances, according to police data.

Rights groups say many of those victims have been killed by vigilante death squads linked to the government.

Rights groups have said that Duterte, who has said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts, may be overseeing a crime against humanity.

Former US president Barack Obama was among the many international critics of the drug war.

Duterte, who frequently uses coarse language against his critics, responded by branding Obama a “son of a whore” last year.

Duterte also used the criticism as justification for loosening the Philippines’ decades-long alliance with the United States in favour of warmer ties with China.

Duterte has boasted repeatedly that US President Donald Trump praised the drug war, although he still frequently rails against the US State Department and American politicians who criticise the killings.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday confirmed Duterte and Tillerson would hold talks in Manila, and that the meeting would be a step towards improving bilateral relations.

“I expect the call to be frank, honest but to discuss also the way forward in our relationship and also to repair some twists and turns or some valleys in our relationship,” Cayetano said.

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